Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

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Airborn Press


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EPISODE 26

If It Wasn’t For Bad Luck…Part VI

“Now, when we get to the castle, Janel, you follow my lead.”

“Of course. You’re the one with the mission.” She grinned up at him. “I’m just one of your retainers.”

One of the best.

“Thank you, Lucky.”

And don’t talk to me out loud. Either of you. The Maridons wouldn’t understand. Superstitious lot, the Maridons.

They both laughed.

You mean I can talk to you in my head?

Yes, you can. And you can use me to talk to Janel if you wish. We usually don’t use that Power except in emergencies, but since I’m already talking to Janel, it would be rather silly to stop.

All right. Janel, can you understand me?

Yes, I can. This is weird.

No it isn’t. It’s how I communicate.

Sorry.

Now, let’s not just stand here. On with your mission, Hand. Your Sword and your loyal retainer are here to support you.

They all laughed and stepped up to the gate. The guard, a huge Maridon with a halbred in his mailed fist, looked down at them. “State your business.”

“Lord Johannes Skonric of Inderjorne with a private message for Lord Ness.”

“Do you have a token to prove your intent?”

“The name of Lord Skonric will be enough.”

The big man grinned and tilted his head. “We’ll see about that very soon.” He slanted the halbred aside to allow them in, nodding to another soldier to escort them.

Janel had never been in a castle, and the Cat could feel her awe. So could her Hand.

This is just a little one, Janel. Ours at home is much bigger.

Of course it is.

His home was a very strong image in his mind, and the Cat picked it out and sent it to the girl.

“Oh! It is large, isn’t it?”

A new voice intruded. “We like to think so.”

Both of them started and turned to face the man who had spoken. He was a middle-aged Maridon man in doublet and hose, his cropped beard and gold chain indicating his lineage.

Janel immediately dropped a curtsey and faded back. Johannes gave a proper bow. “Lord Ness. Good to see you again.”

“It is good to see you, my Lord. It will be doubly good if you have the right message for me.”

Johannes looked around. “Perhaps somewhere more private?”

“Of course.” Then he noticed the Sword. “I though we had decided you were better to come unarmed.”

“I did, my Lord. But I picked this up along the way.”

“You picked up a sword?”

“I’d like to keep that private, too, my Lord. Do you have somewhere my…retainer can wait while we talk?”

“Of course.” He glanced at her. “Rather a strange retainer.”

“Oh, I picked her up along the way, too.” He grinned at Janel’s indignant start. “She was visiting with family in Marida, and I am to escort her home.”

“I see. Well, she can wait in the kitchen, I suppose.” He waved a hand and a servant appeared. “Take her and give her a bite to eat. Send something appropriate for us.”

“Yes my lord. This way, Mistress.”

Janel gave Johannes a surprised glance at this title, then raised her head and graciously followed the servant. As she left, though, the Cat could feel her hesitation.

Don’t worry, I’m still here. I’ll let you know what’s going on.

“So, any trouble on your journey?”

Johannes thought quickly, but the lord was only making polite conversation. He turned and led the way to a comfortable interview room, furnished with long, upholstered lounges, pillows scattered on them. Sitting down, he leaned gracefully on one elbow, pulling his feet up beside him. Johannes, after a bit of hesitation, did the same, wriggling into as comfortable a position as he could.

“So. What is the answer to my proposal?”

“The answer is ‘Yes,’ my Lord.”

“Is that all?”

“Generally. You were very specific, and I don’t know all the details, but my father is interested in the trade. We were more concerned about the route.”

“Which is why I suggested your path to get here.”

“Yes, but I may have solved that problem for you.” He squirmed on the unusual seating. “Or made it worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“There was some problem with Lord Juan, was there not?”

“Yes. He’s a difficult man to understand.”

 That’s an understatement.

“Wha…Oh. Yes, I’m sure he was.”

Sorry, I know you weren’t expecting that. You’ll get used to it.

“What do you mean, ‘was’?”

“Well, I met him on the road, my Lord…”

“And…?”

“I don’t know quite how to put it…”

“Just tell the story. I don’t need a preamble like a theatre piece.”

“Sorry, my Lord. I’ll tell it straight. I was walking along the road, minding my own business. I was supposed to meet my retainer…that’s Janel, and she hadn’t shown up. I wasn’t too concerned, because I could always pick her up on the way back.”

Are you listening to this, Janel?

Yes. What is he talking about?

We’re about to find out.

“Anyway, I was walking along and I heard voices. Loud ones. Especially a girl’s voice, and she didn’t sound happy. I decided to investigate, but quietly, because I wasn’t supposed to draw attention to myself.”

“Those were your instructions.”

“Yes, my Lord, well, I’m sorry, but this is what happened. I came to this little clearing just off the road. Lord Juan was there, and he had Janel. He was toying with her, my Lord. Teasing her like a cat with a mouse.”

Cat’s don’t like to call it teasing. We consider it training for the hunt.

“I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I listened. After a while, from the way he was talking, I realized that he intended to kill her. After having his way with her first, of course.

“That decided me. I’m a pretty glib talker, my Lord, and I wasn’t supposed to make any waves, so I left the sword hidden in the bushes and confronted him. It didn’t take long to realize my mistake.” He fingered the slash on his left ear.

“He attacked you?”

“He made it very clear that he was going to kill both of us. He was making jokes about who he would kill first. I tell you, my Lord, that man was not completely sane!”

“I could have told you that. Obviously you killed him. How?”

“It’s a very sharp sword my Lord, and he wasn’t expecting it.”

That’s a lie! He didn’t kill the bastard. I did!

It isn’t a lie. He didn’t say he killed him. Lord Ness said that.

Oh. You’re right.

Listen.

“So what did you do then?”

“We put his body back on his horse, brushed out our tracks, and left.”

The other lord leaned back on his cushion, looking at the ceiling, his fingers steepled. “So Lord Juan will be found, either on his horse or on the way to his castle after his horse comes home with blood on the saddle. At a time when I was most definitely at home. This could work out.”

Johannes shrugged. “I did the best I could, my Lord. I’m sorry if it caused any trouble, but I don’t see that I need to let myself or my retainer get killed, just to smooth a trade route.”

“No, you’re quite right, my lad. Quite right. And having Juan out of the way will actually make things better. I think it will work out just fine. In fact, I’m going to send you back with a contract. I hadn’t planned to because I was afraid you might get caught, but now I think it’s worth the risk. I assume you’ll be staying the night?”

“Actually, my Lord, I’d like to be getting back. We have a long way to go, and there’s plenty of daylight left. My father will be anxious to get the contract.”

The lord grinned. “And you have a loyal retainer to keep you company on the road.”

What? I heard that!

Johannes pushed his palms forward. “She’s only a girl, my Lord, and we don’t make use of our retainers that way.” He grinned. “Besides, you don’t know this retainer. I’m quite happy keeping my distance.”

I heard that, too. Wait until I get you alone on the road!

I’m shaking in my boots. Now don’t distract me. This is important.

The other Lord did not notice Johannes’s distraction, as a servant had just entered with a tray. “Have a bite to eat, then, and I’ll get the contract packaged up. I’ll be back in a moment.”

The food was a series of small, fancy Maridon dishes, but Johannes ploughed through them, as well as a few sips of the wine, which was too sweet to really quench his thirst.

You can promise yourself a decent mug of ale the moment we cross into Inderjorne, my Lord.

I can and will, Lucky. This calls for a celebration.

Let’s not celebrate too soon. We still have to cross back through Lord Juan’s demesne, and them hunting for his murderer.

I hadn’t thought of that.

You’re armed, now. Better than armed. You have me.

And me. I’m waiting at the gate.

Are you? I’m not sure which is the greater danger.

Don’t worry. I’ll figure out a way to keep you alive. After I’m finished with you.

Lord Ness returned with a small parcel, well wrapped and sealed. Johannes took it without ceremony and slipped it into his shoulder bag.

“Well, I would like to provide entertainment for one who has done me such a favour, but I realize you would like to get home as soon as possible.”

“Yes, my Lord. There’s no sense me staying, because I don’t know enough about the business to tell you anything you don’t know.”

“When you go, why don’t you take the route through Brackenburg? That neatly misses Lord Juan’s lands.”

“I just might do that. An extra day’s walk is worth it.”

“Right. I’ll call your retainer.”

“She’s already waiting at the gate.”

Oops.

“She is? Let’s go, then.”

That was a close one. He assumes a servant told you.

I’m just getting used to this.

Don’t worry. I am bolstering his enthusiasm for the business deal, and he is not paying attention to the minor details of servants.

You can do that?

And much more.

Janel was waiting for Johannes at the gate, and the look she gave him did not bode well for his continued happiness. Ready any time you are, my Lord.

Just don’t attack him within sight of the town, all right?

If you say so. I don’t want witnesses.

With this conversation rattling in his mind Johannes was having trouble concentrating on his farewells, but he managed, and soon they were striding down the street towards the town. At least, he was striding, at a speed she was hard put to maintain.

“What’s your hurry? Trying to get away from me?”

“No, I’m in a hurry to get home.” He slowed. “Now that my business is completed successfully and you are a member of my demesne, I can tell you about it.”

“Flattery is going to get you nowhere. But you can tell me about it while you anticipate your demise.”

“Well, my grandfather has been investigating trading opportunities in Marida. We have products like wool and hardwood that the Maridons want. Now that there is less conflict along the border, he made an offer to Lord Ness. It turns out that your friend Lord Juan was the main problem, and now that he’s gone, they can go ahead much faster than they thought.”

“If you can get home past Lord Juan’s vengeful soldiers. And your vengeful retainer. How dare you tell that story?”

“What did you expect me to say?”

“How about the truth?”

“That you killed Lord Juan with your magic Sword? Are you sure that’s the story you want floating around.”

“…I guess not.”

“And I didn’t really lie. He assumed that I killed the man, and I didn’t straighten him out. I just made it simpler for him. You know how people are. They like to believe the easiest story.”

“I don’t give much thought to what people like to believe. I prefer to tell the truth.”

“Which is why you’re the retainer, and I’m the diplomat.”

“You, a diplomat?”

“Why do you think my father sent me?”

“Because he wanted a break from your lies?”

“Janel, I don’t think this is the way a retainer talks to her liege lord.”

She sighed. “No, my Lord, you’re right. I’m sorry. I just…well, I was proud of myself. I won’t be disrespectful again.”

“And I’m proud of you. We just can’t tell anyone around here.”

And so am I. You did very well. For a girl.

“What! What do you mean…? Oh. You’re laughing at me, aren’t you?”

He’s laughing. I am much too dignified.

“You know, you’re not exactly what I expected of a magic Sword.”

Since you weren’t expecting a magic Sword at all, I don’t suppose I am.

“You know what I mean.”

 Of course I do. I can read it in your mind.

“You can read her thoughts?” Johannes took his hand slowly off her hilt. “Can you read mine?”

I suppose now is a good time to start your training. I don’t mind if Janel listens. Can’t do any harm, I suppose. I can’t really read what you are thinking. I can see pictures if you are thinking strongly about them, and sense emotions, and I put that together with what is happening and I get a pretty good idea. But I can’t read actual thoughts unless you put them into words in your mind.

“That’s good.”

“Too bad.”

Their comments, postitive and negative came together, and they laughed.

Johannes looked down at his companion. “I take it back. I don’t want to read your thoughts. You’re already enough trouble.”

“I’m trouble? You’re the one…no, I promised not to be disrespectful.” But you can’t stop what I’m thinking.

Wait a moment. You’re not going to use me to insult him.

“Why not?”

Because it’s not fair. And I don’t have to pass the message along.

“But you will, because it’s more fun.”

My Lord, you are going to have to control your retainer. She is not good for my development as a Weapon of dignity and honour.

Johannes laughed. “I just can’t think what I’m going to do with her when I get her back to the castle, where everyone is proper and polite. I think I’ll just turn her over to my mother and get my grandfather to send me on some sort of mission that will keep me away for about ten years. Maybe she’ll grow up by then.”

I’d like to warn you, my Lord, that you are out of sight of the village, and thus outside the protection of witnesses.

Janel stalked over to the other side of the road and continued. “I am acting with dignity as becomes my station as the handmaiden to Lady…what is your mother’s name?”

“My mother’s name is Lady Caterina Skonric, if you must know, and she is the spark that lights the fire of the Skonric name.”

Their laughter echoed through the forest, and they strode on towards Inderjorne.

Lady Caterina Skonric. Well. And now I know who you are, young Johannes. How very interesting. I’m really looking forward to the next few years…

 

And here ends this edition of “Sword Called Kitten, the Early Years.”

 

 

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